Friday, August 15, 2014

When Hope Can't be Found {personal thoughts on depression and suicide}

Have you ever lost hope? Ever looked in the mirror, with tears streaming down, wishing it could all be over? Ever felt the weight of the world closing in on you? That there might not be a reason to go on?
Well, I have. 

Many times. Much more than I wish in my short 32 years.

As I am beginning this post, I am hesitating. Should I write these words? Or should I hit the delete button right now before this gets too messy? I am going to start by saying this post is uncomfortable. Maybe more real than some people will like. Maybe you will judge me. Maybe you will leave and never come back.

But I want to share these words. Before I can give you one more diy tutorial or show you a fun craft project I did with the kids. Before I take more pretty pics of a styled set-up in my home. I want to share my personal experience with depression and suicidal thoughts.

Because....more than the number of comments a post gets, or the amount of followers I have, or the money to be found in my AdSense account, or the cool opportunities or sponsored posts I could potentially get offered, more than any of that...

I want this blog to be real

Really, really, really, at the end of the day, real. Me. Just as I am.

With the recent death of Robin Williams, I have been contemplating it a lot. Why talented and artistic people are also often plagued with (sometimes debilitating) depression. I keep thinking about him and what it must have felt like in those moments when he lost all hope. For the last time.

It makes my heart feel heavy inside. But also makes me want to open up about my own experience. I have a couple of times in the past on my Typepad blog. Touched on my depression after the birth of my daughter Hazel, but it has been quite awhile since I have brought it up here, years in fact.

So, here goes.

I have depression.

You might be thinking, no big deal? Lots of people have that. And yes, they do. But there are still so many people who feel alone with it. It is still taboo. Even in 2014 it can make people uncomfortable.

I have had it for a long time. I diagnose myself all the way back to junior high (I have a BA in Psychology so I can do that right? ha). I could have had it before then. It's called dysthymia and is defined as "a chronic type of depression in which a person's moods are regularly low. However, symptoms are not as severe as with major depression."

I have taken several different types of medication, gone to a variety of counselors and therapists, and relied on my faith to get me through. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try though, the chemistry in your brain trumps all of your efforts, and you sink lower and lower and lower.

The first time that I contemplated suicide was in high school. Life often felt like it was closing in on me and I couldn't bear the weight. My parents had a messy divorce when I was young and I had what some might consider a rough childhood. The arguments, custody battles, domestic violence that I witnessed and other family issues all lead to me feeling like suicide was the only way out. The only way to finally be free of the pain. (Please note: I am not blaming my parents for this. They are not to blame. I know that they love me and wish I had never felt this way. This was simply how my brain reacted to the stress I was experiencing.)

I was (and am) a perfectionist. I have always been hard on myself and very self-conscious. I never felt like I was good enough and have lived with guilt feelings for much of my life. Because my parents didn't "plan me" and had such a difficult relationship, I believed several lies like, You shouldn't be here. You weren't wanted. You caused this mess. You are the reason they are so miserable. If you hadn't been born they would never have been together. 

Most of the time, I didn't consider suicide, but prayed, instead, for God to take me. To end it all for me. To let me go from this world that was too much for me. He didn't answer those prayers (at least not in the way I was hoping at the time).

Back in the summer of 2011, I had the worst case of depression I can ever recall. It wasn't dysthymia. It was a full blown case of postpartum depression. If I didn't get help when I finally did, I could have ended up being one of those women you hear about on the news. I was right on the verge of some "crazy" thoughts.

I had a baby at 31 weeks and spent the first fifty days of her life going back and forth to the NICU to visit her. I didn't feel like her mother. She belonged to the doctors and nurses. They knew what to do for her, not me.

Then one day it was time to bring her home. I was so happy and thought everything was going to be wonderful and perfect just like everyone tells you before you have a baby. Wasn't it?

And then there were no more doctors and nurses (other than the home health care nurse who came for 20 minutes once a week). I was supposed to be her mom. My husband went back to work and it was all on me. She cried more hours than she didn't. I had to give her several medications several times a day for her severe reflux. I had to try nursing her all by myself, even though it hadn't been going well the last two weeks at the hospital, even with the help of the lactation consultants. I called her pediatrician almost every day. I was convinced terrible things were going to happen. She had issues breathing in the hospital, so I lived in fear. I didn't understand how I could be trusted to care for this person. It felt like a curse. Not a blessing. 

I was so alone. And eventually...I drew nearer and nearer to the precipice called "no hope."

When my husband would come home, I would hand her off and he would just say, "Go." He knew I couldn't handle it anymore. I would choose between going straight to bed (even if it was five in the evening) or sit in my big old clawfoot tub. Such a thing of beauty when we first bought our home. One of the perks that made us decide to buy this "too small" house.

In those days though, it became my place of longing for death. I would sit in that tub imagining the water turning red with the blood from my wrists. And that felt good. The only way I can explain that is perhaps by imagining it, I could feel a release, for a moment, from the pain.

That tub is where I would fantasize that I had a garage. Not for storage of all my junk. One where I could pull my car into, close the door and say goodbye.

I remember getting to the point where I couldn't even cry anymore. I was numb. I almost felt like I didn't exist. Like I was a ghost watching everyone and whispering quietly, "Hey, I am here. Can you feel me? Can you see me?" But they didn't answer.

Maybe that is how Robin Williams felt. Maybe he felt so alone even with family and friends and millions of fans. I don't know what was going through his mind that day, other than somehow, for at least one moment, he was without hope. To me that is the saddest state anyone could ever find themselves. I wish I could have the opportunity to go to that person right before that moment and say, Wait, there is hope. Please, please, please. Don't give up now. Just wait one more second.

Because I know it can be good again. Once you get through that moment. That dark time. There is hope on the other side. And laughter. And family. And moments of joy. There is a future. It's there... past the dark curtain with the sign overhead that says, "NO HOPE BEYOND THIS POINT."

That sign is a lie.

If we could just brush our fingers through that curtain right before and get a glimmer. See a flicker of light. But sadly, some people don't get that chance. That sign is the end.

Even though I wish I could hold the hand of everyone losing hope and about to jump off the precipice of no return, and remind them of the beauty they bring to this world, I can't. And we don't get to go back and do that. We only have now. We only have this moment. If you know someone who is depressed, have you reached out? Have you offered hope? Even with just a moment of being there. Saying, Hey, I notice you. I can feel you here. You are not a ghost to me. Maybe by something simple, a hug, a note in the mail. A flicker of light. A glimmer of hope.

Maybe you could pull someone back from that precipice without even knowing it.

This is raw, I know. That is how it is though. And if we don't talk about it, how can we help others going through the same thing? If we keep pretending everything is "okay" all the time, or we shove things aside because they are too "uncomfortable."

I used to feel like such a terrible person for having depression. I remember hearing people say that Christians couldn't really get depressed unless you weren't following God. My humble answer to that...God was the only thing that I was holding onto in those dark, suicidal moments. The only one I was calling on to help me. Save me. Pull me up, Lord. I am begging you. I know he was there when I was in that tub. I couldn't hear him. And I certainly couldn't see him. The fog that I was in was much too thick.

But he was there. He never left my side.
It's hard I know. And so uncomfortable. And sometimes, as much as we are involved in someones life, we truly might not see it. Some depressive people get very good at hiding it. I did. I got A's in high school. I was an overachiever, involved in groups and activities. I took showers, wore make-up and nice clothes. I went out with friends. And then some nights curled on the floor asking God to take me. Free me from the pain I am hiding.

When I battled PPD, I hid it for a long time. If people came over, I said I had things to do upstairs. They just want to see the baby anyways. They don't care about me. When my husband went to visit his family, I stayed home. "She needs a break" was a good excuse. An easy out. Maybe they didn't see it. Maybe they didn't know that when I was upstairs or alone at home, I was weeping, wishing someone would come and open that curtain a little bit for me. Show me that there was hope on the other side. Tell me that I wasn't really alone.

If you are reading this and you are at that point where you are feeling beyond hope, I am reaching out for you right now...opening that curtain. Don't believe that sign overhead. You can't read it correctly right now. The chemistry in your brain isn't working properly. What it really says is, "HOPE IS ON THE OTHER SIDE." Your future is in there. Please come in. You are welcome here. Welcome in the beauty and the joy of this life. It is for you too. There will be more trials but also incredible moments of joy that you don't want to miss. There is so much goodness waiting for you.

It is for you.
If you are struggling with this right now, please call someone, tell someone you trust. Don't lose hope. Don't forget that you have beauty inside of you that so many others can see. Even if you can't right now. It is there. Please, don't give up on yourself. There is hope on the other side. I promise.

Whether you are a person of faith or not, there is a book filled with hope. You know the one I am talking about. If you have one at home, open it up right now and find hope from the only one who can truly give it. If you don't have one, you can read it right here.

If you are contemplating suicide please seek help immediately:

I am offering the last image in this post as a free printable for you. Click on the link below to save it to your computer. Print it out, hang it somewhere you can see it every day and remember that there is beauty and joy in this life for you.

I hope you will return even though I have shown you my darkest and dustiest of places. The ones I wish I could cover up with something pretty. But this is part of my story. 

My perfectly imperfect story. Where the beauty is.

If you have an experience of your own that you feel compelled to share, I am all ears. Either in a comment below or send me an email

Till next time...
~Alice W.

Other posts of interest:

The first two posts are from my former Typepad blog where I discussed my PPD (eventually I hope to move these over but haven't gotten a chance yet):

The Ups and Downs of Hazel Days

The Darkest Days

When Your Child is in Pain